Is Self-Esteem Absolute, Relative, or Functional? Implications for Cross-Cultural and Humanistic Psychology

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Abstract

The fields of self-esteem, cross-cultural psychology, and humanistic psychology intersect in a way that affects issues within and between all of them. An important one concerns the question of whether self-esteem is a universal human phenomenon that transcends culture in a meaningful way or if self-esteem is a relative phenomenon largely limited to individualistic rather than collectivistic cultures. Because self-esteem is a core concept in humanistic psychology as seen in Rogers’ and Maslow’s work on self-actualization, this issue is relevant to humanistic psychology in terms of its ability to reach across cultures. The article begins by presenting the 2 major positions that cross-cultural work tends to take about the relationship between self-esteem and culture. The focus then turns to the relevance of that work for humanistic psychology by first briefly exploring the strengths and weaknesses of each of the 3 major definitions of self-esteem found in that field. Next, one of them, namely the 2-factor definition, is presented as being most able to cross cultural lines. Finally, because this view of self-esteem has roots in early humanistic psychology, the 2-factor approach to understanding self-esteem may help humanistic psychology be more relevant to collective cultures.

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